How to Be Spiritually Resilient in Your Suffering

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How do you persist in the faith in the midst of hardship? A psychologist offers six practices that can help turn your pain into peace.

One of the greatest gifts we can share with others is a sense of our own peace, but we can’t share what we don’t have. Spiritual resilience, the ability not only to bounce back from adversity but to deepen as a result of it, is essential to becoming a better person — parent, friend, member of a spiritual community, the list continues.

Today, the world seems to be such an insecure, stressful, and even dangerous place. Spiritual hunger, physical ills, financial pressures, unemployment, and loss of trust in many of the institutions our parents (and past generations) counted on constantly threaten our faith in ourselves and our God.

Here are six ways to persist in the faith in the midst of hardship:

  1. Fully experience your pain.

Ignoring pain or playing it down only buries it. Instead, let your emotion out in prayer as a lament that can be placed on the broad shoulders of God. This is a tried-and-true way of praying as shown in the Hebrew Scriptures.

By being transparent when we are suffering and encountering God this way, we also deepen our relationship with the Lord. As we express our pain to him, we are in effect also demonstrating our belief in the intimacy he offers and following Jesus’ call in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

  1. Be gentle with yourself as you seek clarity.

Don’t be harsh with yourself as you mine the gray and dark areas of your life where you feel you have made a mistake or sinned. The reality is that behavior you wince at will eventually turn into behavior that you wink at. You can’t constantly pick on yourself and learn from the situations being examined.

Bottom line: when we are not gentle (by self-preaching grace), we treat ourselves poorly. When we are not clear (by repenting), we will never grow. Yet, when we are both clear and gentle with ourselves in tough situations, we set the stage for growth and new depth that would not have been possible without the stress, darkness, or trauma we faced.

This balance of clarity and gentleness manifests itself in a spirit of intrigue. When we are intrigued about both our signature strengths and growing edges that need improvement, new understanding and change becomes more possible.

  1. Seek the proper circle of friends.

Find a community of fellow Christians who will support, challenge, tease, and inspire you; to do this, look at who is in your life now and seek out:

  • Prophets: the people who challenge us to look at what “voices” are guiding our actions, thoughts, and beliefs
  • Cheerleaders: the friends who support us
  • Teasers: those who prevent us from taking ourselves too seriously as we take seriously the situations in our life
  • Inspirational or spiritual friends: people who encourage us to be all that we can be without embarrassing us for being in our current state
  1. Strengthen your “rule of prayer.”

Fourth-century Ammas and Abbas (the Desert Mothers and Fathers who were monastic ascetics) saw spiritual growth and compassion toward others as the essential elements to living a rich, meaningful life. Their “rule of prayer” included: liturgy, which is where we meet God in the Eucharist, the Word, and each other; formal prayer, such as the psalms; reading sacred scripture in a way that helps us find our true identity (as theologian Karl Barth would remind us, when we look at scripture and ask “What is this book saying?” it should respond to us with the question, “Who is it that’s asking?”); spiritual reading to help us see how both classic and contemporary spiritual pilgrims faced obstacles, lived fully, and reached out to others; time alone in silence and possibly solitude to center ourselves; journaling so we can follow how we are living our lives and what we have learned; and taking out seconds or minutes to break up the day by saying a centering word (gentleness, compassion, Lord) or line from scripture (“I won’t leave you orphaned, I will come back for you . . . You are my friend”).

  1. Receive love in order to give it.

Recognize that the greatest challenge in the spiritual life is not giving love, as essential as that is, but rather receiving love. Reception of the love around us will in turn have a positive impact on others as we interact with them out of a place of being loved. As Pope John XXIII noted, “Whomever has a heart full of love always has something to share.”

  1. Seek to be grateful in new ways.

As Brother David Steindl-Rast says, many of us leave the house with a “mental list” that limits for the day what we are willing to be grateful for because we have predetermined what would make us happy. He suggests we throw away the list and be open to whatever comes our way. Psychological research on gratitude by Robert Emmons and others have shown that grateful people receive more and live longer, happier lives.

*   *   *

These are several approaches we can take to become more spiritually resilient. Life can be tough. Yet, our spiritual life is valuable when, especially when we are facing dark times. Moreover, as we often see, darkness provides the setting in which new space within can be opened to appreciate what is truly important and life-giving.

It is not that we seek suffering or pain; no one should do that. However, when we are faced with it, given the right attitude and support, such suffering is not for naught. It is not the last word. As a matter of fact, it may be a portal to a greater sense of what is important in a life that goes by all too quickly.

Written by: Robert J. Wicks

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